Heather Conn Blogs

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Good on you, Danny Boyle

Few people would associate punk-rock strums from The Clash and Sid Vicious, the late Sex Pistols’ lead singer, with Olympic competition. But their gritty sounds helped make yesterday’s opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London the best I’ve seen.

 

I generally condemn the hype, corporate hoo-haw, and expense of the Olympics, but am a sucker for well-executed artistic, creative spectacle, from Burning Man to Cirque de Soleil. And director Danny Boyle’s historical extravaganza, although too long, was a whimsical, ingenious wonder.

 

I didn’t think that the bird’s-eye-view, film-journey intro was necessary and its quick-cut imagery created a disjointed effect. But overall, I liked the thematic thread of childhood play and discovery throughout the show, which I watched with my 93-year-old Scottish friend and neighbour Cathie. She loved it all, although the dance sequences that represented the 70s and 80s left her perplexed. (In the latter, I was delighted to see that the featured couple was not Barbie-and-Ken blonds with Chiclet teeth. Kudos to Boyle for casting against type.)

 

As a children’s author, I loved seeing J. K. Rowling, of course, and having children’s literature celebrated, along with kids reading surreptitiously in bed. But the benign stories included, such as Peter Pan and Mary Poppins, were far safer politically than the content of Charles Dickens, whose books like Oliver Twist revealed the many ugly sides of the Industrial Revolution (child labour, exploitation, pollution etc). No room for that in this sanitized portrayal.

 

Since my father received medical training at Great Ormond Street Hospital and always spoke highly of it, I was glad to see it gain recognition. And gee, in this era of Obamacare, what would the U.S. neocons think about this synchronized splash of light and dance celebrating Britain’s national health system? Subversive socialism propaganda beamed at the world’s millions, no doubt.

 

I appreciated the show’s historical perspective, the inclusion of suffragettes, and the portrayal of labourers toiling and sweating at their tasks. A fan of poet William Blake, I thought that the inclusion of his poem Jerusalem would undoubtedly raise the rancor of Arabs around the globe. Yet its inclusion was clever here. In the poem, Blake cites the “dark, Satanic mills,” used to produce iron and steel for England’s war effort, and mentions: “Bring me my Chariot of Fire.”

 

Blake’s Jerusalem, as one critic states, symbolized humanity free of war, the chains of commerce, and British imperialism; this was effectively conveyed in the bucolic splendor at the start of the ceremony. So, Boyle powerfully transformed this negative association of industrial production into the five Olympic rings, a symbol of countries coming together to show their best, not their worst.

 

My favourite parts of the compelling presentation included Daniel Craig as Bond, impatient to whisk away the Queen; Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean in the Chariots of Fire sequence; the choir of deaf children signing (not singing); David Beckham delivering the Olympic torch by boat, and the film series of “the kiss” projected onto the house exterior, which included Shrek, Prince William and Kate, and others. Sorry, Sir Paul, you’ve been far too familiar and predictable for too long and your croaky voice needs to stay low at your age.

 

I can’t imagine trying to conjure, let alone produce and synchronize, all of these shows-within-a-mega-show. Congrats to Boyle for telling the world: “Look who England is and what we’ve done!” You did it with more class and heart than any other Olympic opening ceremony.

Note: I didn’t watch the athletes’ procession. I was disgusted that sponsor Adidas had ordered all participants to wear Adidas shoes in this event. If they wore a pair made by a competitor, they had to cover the logos. Ridiculous and outrageous corporate power, all for the sake of advertising and marketing.

I wonder what Jamaican sprinter and Olympic medallist Usain  Bolt, sponsored by Puma, would have to say about that. He got a clause written into his contract to ensure that Puma outfitted all kids at his elementary school in Jamaica with running shoes. Otherwise, they’d be barefoot. Now, that’s a great use of corporate product.

 

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July 28, 2012 at 1:54 pm Comment (1)

What kind of change agent are you?

Awareness. Commitment. Action. One person alone can’t alter an entire economic system, but working with others who are committed to take action to change it can make a difference. That’s one of the messages of The Story of Change, the latest in environmental activist Annie Leonard’s animated video series The Story of Stuff.

 

In this six-minute short, Leonard blames bad policies and business practices for our current western economy, which values profits over people and the planet, and creates enormous inequities in taxation and income. It’s not enough, she says, to be a smart shopper and stop buying stuff that you don’t need that will end up in a landfill. We need to demand changes from politicians, regulators, and manufacturers.

 

The movie explores what effective change-making has looked like over time, presenting two world examples of successful mass change: the U.S. civil rights movement under Martin Luther King Jr., and India’s shift to independence, spurred by Mahatma Gandhi. Neither of these pivotal events of social transformation would have happened, Leonard says, if the respective leaders, King and Gandhi, had pursued their quest as loners.

Annie Leonard

She emphasizes that any significant effort to build a better future shares three key factors: a big idea, a commitment to work together, and the ability to turn the big idea and commitment into action.

 

I wholly agree, and yet the movie fails to acknowledge the value and power of inner growth and change, which often creates the launching pad for external action. The spiritual beliefs of both King and Gandhi were major influences behind their desire for change and their commitment to peaceful resistance. If King and Gandhi were themselves violent people, they could not have inspired and led others towards peace and dramatic social change. Their inner change had to come first.

 

That’s one reason, in my view, why many collective attempts at change fail. The so-called leaders haven’t done enough inner growth work (whether it’s in aid of maturity, anger management, compassion, forgiveness, love etc) to walk the talk and inspire others without creating emotional meltdowns, hatred, resentments, and disillusionment. The resulting hypocrisy and contradictions between their espoused views and goals and their daily behavior become too discordant for many followers, who often quit in disgust.

 

 

As they say: Never underestimate the power of one human being to make a difference. As Gandhi said: “We must be the change we want to see in the world.” Someone’s presence, demeanour, and attitude, even with no words spoken, can alter any atmosphere or group.

 

I believe in the approach Heal Yourself, Heal the World. Yet, as Leonard points out, it’s not enough to remain isolated after changing yourself for the good. Only when you join with like-minded others for a larger cause can widespread change take place.

 

What kind of change agent are you — networker or nurturer, builder or resister? Discover your “changemaker personality type” (communicator, builder, networker, nurturer, investigator or resister) in the short quiz following the video.

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July 23, 2012 at 8:15 pm Comment (1)

How do we nab a cute little critter?

A few days ago, my husband heard some loud gnawing behind our stove. He said that it sounded like something was trying to chew its way into the house from outside. We suspected a rat.

 

My hubby pulled the stove away from the wall and shone his flashlight down to the floor. There was no hole and no rat. Only a tiny mouse with shiny black eyes and big ears stared up at him, then resumed chewing on a large hunk of discarded cheese. My husband thought it looked adorable.

 

The cheese is now gone. The mouse isn’t.

 

I went to Canadian Tire and bought a product called Mouse Inn, which ensures “a gentle catch.” On the box, it shows a smiling mouse lounging in an easy chair, with feet up on a stool and a lamp in the corner. I liked this image; it’s better than seeing a mouse convulsing under the bar of a mousetrap before it dies.

 

I promote the notion of a peaceful death – or preferably, no death at all. The Mouse Inn, a small, rectangular plastic compartment with a one-way trap door, comes with some valerian pills, an herbal sedative that is supposed to put the mouse to sleep. One pill, one dozing mouse, which you can then relocate.

 

We tried it. It didn’t work.

 

The mouse got into our bottom shelf of seedlings indoors, devouring sweet pea seeds in a dozen peat disks. My husband considered this a travesty. This meant war on mice. . . well, maybe just a minor skirmish.

 

He has now baited the Mouse Inn with not only a valerian pill, but a giant piece of Black Diamond yellow cheddar. I will keep you posted . . . The two stray cats we’ve been feeding outdoors have not yet caught the little critter. Hopefully, we won’t have to resort to the extreme methods demonstrated by Christopher Walken and Nathan Lane in the 1997 movie Mousehunt.

 

In other mouse news, while in a dollar store recently on Commercial Drive in Vancouver, BC, I saw a mouse scurry across the floor in front of me, then make a sharp turn down one of the aisles. It was going so fast that it lost traction on the linoleum floor and skidded, just like in a cartoon. I laughed to myself, grateful that the two young boys near me hadn’t seen it.

An afterthought: I lived in the country for more than 10 years before having a mouse indoors. I find that ironic since almost every place I lived in Vancouver over a 30-year-period had mice. I have lots of mice stories. Maybe I’ll make this a series.

Got a mouse story? Why not share it here?

 

 

 

 

 

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April 14, 2012 at 2:38 pm Comment (1)

Here’s admiration to the brave souls in Syria

At the start of this new year, after we in the west have enjoyed restful holidays with loved ones, how many of us are thinking of the plight of those in Syria?

 

A few nights ago, my husband and I watched disturbing footage, posted on YouTube and shown on CNN, of two police officers, with guns, stuffing a man into the trunk of a car in daylight, in the middle of a street. Another man, presumably a friend, was trying to pull the man out of the trunk. This man, clad in white, had blood stains on his upper shoulder. About a dozen people were near the vehicle.

 

The footage, shot by a Syrian citizen from an overhead balcony, ended soon after. That image stayed with me for days. Did the man escape? Did his friend save him? Were both men detained and later killed? This image made me think of so many places where similar scenes have occurred under repression, from Latin America to elsewhere in the Middle East.

 

In Syria, the police are not only torturing and killing adults, but children too. Thousands of civilians risk their lives every day, facing police bullets and tear gas, to meet in public and demand democracy and an end to their government’s brutal rule. Many are doubly risking their lives by videotaping the horrors unfolding in the streets. Snipers have killed plenty of them.

 

On this first day of 2012, I want to express the utmost admiration for the people in Syria and elsewhere who are displaying tremendous courage every day. I think of the bravery of that man, trying to save the other at huge risk to himself, and of what love and friendship will compel us to do at such dangerous times. That willingness to risk life for that of another, even a stranger, is what gives me hope for the human race. That quality is what promotes peace.

 

Here, in a land where most of us take democracy for granted, even though it has eroded phenomenally in recent years, I salute those two primary qualities, so commodified since the 1960s: love and peace. Let’s see more of both this year. They start with each of us.


January 1, 2012 at 11:09 am Comments (0)

Want to curb your consumer waste? See The Clean Bin Project

Now, every time I throw something out, I think of the one, tiny basket of garbage that Grant Baldwin and Jenny Rustemeyer each had left after one year. The Vancouver, B.C. couple, creators and stars of the documentary The Clean Bin Project,  achieved almost zero waste after a year of purchasing nothing except food and work-related necessities. I found their dedication (Jen was the most committed of the two) truly inspirational. Jen started growing veggies, she made her own toothpaste, created hand-made family Christmas gifts, and avoided plastic when buying food by re-using a mesh bag for veggies and requesting that items such as cheese be cut from a large block, rather than purchasing some prepackaged.

 

Their 2010 documentary is an entertaining look at the competitive fun the two had in seeing who would end up with the least amount of household waste after one year. At the end, they each weighed their individual trash bins — I won’t tell you who won. Besides the humor and drama of their ongoing challenges, the movie includes an interview with Brian Burke, compost and recycling guru at Quayside Village Co-Housing in North Vancouver; international artist Chris Jordan (who traded in 10 years of wealth and over-consumption as a New York corporate lawyer to create photographic art composed of mini-images of trash heaps); and Charles Moore, who first discovered the miles-long pile of floating plastic waste that circulates in the Pacific Ocean.

 

The most poignant part of the film for me was watching Jordan photograph the remains of dead albatross on tiny Midway Island near Hawaii (the atoll is home to almost 70 per cent of the world’s Laysan albatross population). Each skeleton in the sand appeared with what were once the bird’s stomach contents:  a motley assortment of colored bottle caps and other plastic debris. Each young bird was suffocating to death after swallowing plastic, which its body couldn’t process. The mother albatross fly out to sea, retrieve what they believe is food from the floating debris pile in the Pacific, and then feed it to their young ones. How’s that for a powerful metaphor of what our consumer society is doing to life itself?

 

I appreciated the global perspectives that these interviews added to the immediate story of Grant and Jen’s one-year adventure in waste reduction and recycling. It truly put their efforts in a much-needed perspective of how all human consumption and waste patterns affect the planet, ourselves, and all living things.

 

The Clean Bin Project film has won a variety of awards, including Best Canadian Documentary at the 2011 Projecting Change Film Festival. The filmmaking duo is on tour to promote the film and its messages. I saw it in Gibsons, BC as part of the excellent Green Film Series sponsored by the Gibsons Green Team and Sustainable Coast Magazine. It’s guaranteed to get you changing your consumer habits — or, if you’re a diehard, at least thinking more about them. 

 

 

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October 2, 2011 at 12:18 pm Comment (1)

Tenth anniversary of 9/11: one degree of separation

In this past week, marking a decade since the 9/11 disaster, I have watched several powerful documentaries about that horrific day, including “9/11: Heroes of the 88th Floor.” (This focuses on Port Authority workers Frank De Martini and Pablo Ortiz, who saved the lives of dozens of people trapped in the World Trade Center, only to die themselves in the collapse of the towers.) I find such tales of selflessness, and the pay-it-forward response to those rescued by such heroes, truly uplifting, despite the horrendous circumstances.

But my husband, a New Yorker, refuses to watch such shows. He thinks that they over-hype the event, exploiting tragedy, and manipulating sentiment. He finds reminders of 9/11 too upsetting. For two days, following 9/11, he heard the U.S. military jets continue their deafening flight between Boston and New York, circling the skies night and day, and zooming directly overhead his home in Marblehead, Mass., north of Boston. (Who needed such overkill, when all flights were grounded?) He bears his own connection to what happened that September day, which I share below.

To honor his response to 9/11, and those who died that day, their loved ones who remain, the survivors, and those who worked so generously in the clean-up and aftermath, I include my husband’s article, which originally appeared in the Marblehead Reporter. It was later reprinted in The New York Times. This year, the editor of the Reporter asked him to write a follow-up piece, which I will include next week. Stay tuned.

One degree of separation


Frank L. McElroy

Marblehead

On the 11th day after the 11th day of September 2001, I found myself in escape driving through the heart of New England from Marblehead to southwestern Vermont. It couldn’t have been soon enough or more necessary to try to leave behind, even for a moment, the horror of the destruction in southern Manhattan and in Virginia.

Ellen, Mad and I drove along the winding roads of New Hampshire and Vermont, the names of the small towns passing by – Wilton, Peterborough, Dublin, Dummerston, Newfane, Jamaica, Winhall and Peru.

These are tiny places far away from the island of Manhattan, where I was born and where Ellen produced and directed broadcast advertising. Yet people in these places are more closely connected to New York than one might imagine.

The connection was made obvious in the messages which lined our route. There were innumerable flags displayed, beginning in Nashua and continuing the entire route, the greatest density on the roadside likely being in Dublin, N.H. Sign boards related a supportive or conciliatory thought: “Stand Tall America,” “Pray for those who died on Sept. 11,” and “Proud To Be An American/Proud To Be From New York.”

America is a nation of small towns and New York City just happens to be the biggest of all. People in the little towns have always known this – now New Yorkers have learned the same.

I didn’t think I knew anyone who died in the conflagration. My father was safe, as was my niece who lives on Manhattan. A week after the bombing, I connected to the Cornell University Web site. That early list of alumni dead numbered three, and I knew one. Not well, just an occasional acquaintance in the class below me who was a remarkable lacrosse player.

When I saw that name, all courage drained from me. I couldn’t search for any more friends or classmates that day or for days after, because I knew there would be more. And there will be, for everyone.

When the final list is made, many of us will discover that a lover, friend or classmate has been lost. What we won’t directly observe is that this calamity is so awesome and extreme that the six and seven degrees of separation which supposedly connect us all have been pared to one, maybe two.

When we are able to read the final list of the dead, I fear it is safe to say that nearly every one of us will either know someone who died or someone who knew or was related to a victim. In this there is a parallel to the Second World War. Other parallels include extraordinary acts of bravery and heroism, during the attacks and afterwards and continuing.

Driving along New Hampshire 101 and Vermont 9 and 30, I found no relief from the fear and heartache of the earlier 11 days. Looking at the messages, remembering the images, I cried, Ellen cried, Mad, too. We have grown accustomed to our even existence, won and preserved by so many who have come before us and made immeasurable sacrifice.

That existence is forever changed, but I am calmed by the knowledge that the loss occasioned by the brutal attacks is one shared so directly, by so many.

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September 9, 2011 at 9:38 am Comments (0)

Offensive and absurd: recent ads hit an astounding new low

            There’s never any shortage of offensive advertising, but I found one recent  television ad so repulsive, I had to write about it.

            It has aired for a few months, seen by millions during the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s the TV ad for Old Milwaukee beer, showing vintage-style pinup images of two buxom and leggy women, wearing tight and scant outfits from the 1940s-50s era. They appear, in close-up, on either side of an Old Milwaukee beer can, as if they’re about to cuddle it.

            That imagery alone astounded me. I thought that by 2011, many major advertisers have begrudgingly matured enough to portray women as more than just the usual male sex objects. Does Pabst Brewing Company, which brews and owns Old Milwaukee, have such little regard for female sports fans?

            Well, these caricatures weren’t the worst of it. At a rare time when my remote wasn’t muted for commercial breaks during the hockey playoffs, I was appalled to hear the accompanying narration: “A free girl with every can.” How outrageous! This likens women to nothing more than a disposal party favour, ready on demand to provide pleasure and satisfaction — at no cost. What a disgusting affront to females of every age.

            For pure tasteless exploitation, this ranks almost as high as the United Colors of Benetton’s former ads, which used scenes from real-life Third World suffering to grab interest and juxtapose against their luxury fashions.

            Part of me is shocked that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation accepted this sexist piece of tripe, yet I know that the network is desperate for revenue. Ironically, decades ago, the CBC refused to run a short TV ad that portrayed logging companies, destroying B.C. forests, as bloated pigs. The ad was meant to present an alternative view  to the “Forests Forever” TV ads running on the network at the time. Outraged by the CBC decision, Vancouverite Kalle Lasn launched Adbusters, now an international magazine and media organization that slams consumer culture and mainstream advertising.

            I plan to write to both CBC and Pabst and let them know what I think about the Old Milwaukee ad. If you find this ad offensive, I encourage you to do the same.

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            When my husband told me this week that he heard a radio ad for a product called Fresh Balls, I was dumbfounded. What will marketers think of next? Is there any part of the human form left that adertisers haven’t identified as badly needing to be fixed in some way? Some wily, creative ad agency type must have figured: “Hey, why not grab guys by the balls (metaphorically)? Here’s a whole untapped market we can focus on.”

            The cream is supposed to keep “your private area” dry, clean and fresh, instead of “sweaty, sticky and chafing”, which apparently “all men suffer from.” Daily application is recommended as part of a man’s regular “grooming routine”; frequency uses up more product, right?

June 12, 2011 at 6:26 pm Comments (4)

Living in Emergency: survival at its rawest edge

For anybody in western society who thinks that their life is tough, try immersing yourself in the harrowing documentary Living in Emergency. This 2008 hard-to-watch film throws you into the poverty and life-death traumas of  patients in the Congo and Liberia, whom four hardy Medecins San Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) volunteers — all stressed and challenged to the max — try to save with only the barest of medical resources.

Last month, I saw the Vancouver, BC premiere of this gripping film, a former Oscar contender, at the Vancity TheatreBeyond the doctors’ obvious heroism and exhausting hours, I liked that the movie showed the three men and one woman in less-than-flattering terms. This  movie marked the first-ever insider’s look at Doctors Without Borders volunteers in the field, and director Mark Hopkins told Huffington Post that the organization wasn’t exactly thrilled at the idea.

A French doctor panics when he’s forced to drill a dying man’s skull with the wrong equipment, due to a lack of supplies. One of the doctors, a new-recruit Australian, spews contempt at Unicef while drunk in off-hours, saying he’d tell any of its reps to “Fuck off” if they arrived to “help” at his isolated clinic. The other 20-something recruit rails against the impossibilities of his duties, saying that there’s no way he can continue. The others fear that one of their colleagues  has become too much like Kurtz in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

Round-the-clock triage and tension-filled meetings give way to clashing egos, arguments, and also poignant admissions and loving community moments. A  native doctor complains that his western colleagues treat him like a secondary helper and when he demands greater respect, they criticize him. Admitting some gender bias on my part, I was pleased to see that the female doctor appears to handle the stress and demands the best of the four, ultimately choosing to head the emergency program.

Anybody who’s squeamish is guaranteed to look away during some scenes, when the sawing sound of a leg amputation sounds too close, for instance, and a doctor holds an organ in bloodied gloves above an open, throbbing torso. I’m usually pretty good with the sight of blood, but I definitely averted my eyes a few times.

I consider people such as these four doctors, willing to risk their lives to help others in the most extreme circumstances, true heroes. Yet I don’t uphold any sense of them as gods; they have chosen courage and astounding commitment over comfort and wealth, which is still readily accessible to them once they return home.

My main complaint is that the film was too long; it could have been edited more tightly. The interweaving of the four personalities and their stories, as subtext to their demanding medical days, could have been blended together more clearly and seamlessly. But overall, I think  it was an excellent and rare voyeur’s view of life at its rawest edge.

This screening of Living in Emergency was presented by Reel Causes, a great Vancouver-based nonprofit, all volunteer-run,  which screens monthly films on “poverty, disease and humanitarian causes” and donates all proceeds to a related charity. The proceeds from this April 21 show went to support Doctors Without Borders’ emergency fund.

 I applaud Reel Causes’ founder Mohamed Ehab for using film in such a proactive way to support social change, and the Vancity Theatre for creating an ongoing venue and an affiliated partnership.

May 10, 2011 at 5:12 pm Comments (2)

The Quaids in Hollywood North: How can you trust a guy who wears a fake dick?

When a filmmaker appears onstage at Vancouver, B.C.’s Rio Theatre and says: “The bullets are rubber, the penis is a prosthetic, and there’s a lot of nudity,” you can expect her upcoming flick to be, er, a tad unconventional. (I was only thinking: How can you trust a guy who wears a fake dick?)

When that filmmaker is Evi Quaid, wife of wacky Hollywood actor Randy Quaid, then you can expect the movie to be extremeo bizarro. Yes, indeed, this year’s April 22 world premiere of Star Whackers, featuring Randy as three ultra-strange characters plus a cast of several mangy-looking donkeys (the four-legged kind), was as woo-woo as they get. This grossly self-indulgent flick seemed akin to a bad student experimental film trying desperately to be clever and edgy, yet coming across as something influenced by alternating doses of downers and LSD.

(For backstory, it helps to know that Evi and Randy are on the lam after fleeing from California to Canada. In the U.S., they left behind a range of crimes from break-and-enter to unpaid hotel and restaurant bills. Randy believes that he’s targeted for death by Hollywood “star whackers” who seek to kill celebrities to boost their market value. He thinks that stars such as Heath Ledger and Chris Penn, among others, were victims of these professional assassins.)

Hence, his wife’s film focuses on a mostly naked Randy, clothed in a full-length fur coat, on the run from Randy the assassin, clad in black with sunglasses and a serious-looking assault rifle, interspersed with Randy as an unknown third character, who spouts off on a hilltop while wearing an animal skull and antlers on his head and a black, open-weave bag stretched across his face. Your usual run-of-the-mill stuff, right? (Randy’s penis prosthetic, by the way, is a forlorn, droopy-looking thing. Can’t guess, and don’t want to, what’s hiding underneath it.)

 

Randy’s penis prosthetic is a forlorn, droopy-looking thing.

 

I had expected Evi, who appeared in the Rio’s aisles wearing tight clothes, a wide-brimmed hat and a video camera, to screen a 10- or 15-minute excerpt, then ask for audience feedback. Instead, we were subjected — the theatre was about a third full — to an 88-minute screed of Randy reciting Shakespeare and repeating soliloquoys over and over and over without any identifiable plot or script. After about the eighth consecutive time of him spouting “To be or not to be,” even the curiosity-seekers in the crowd like me were groaning.

We saw frontally nude Randy rolling in dry grass in his long fur coat. We saw him bellowing Shakespeare while holding the same antlered animal skull that later ended up on his head. We saw him eating dried grass on all fours and putting  a white donkey in a head lock, presumably to get information out of him. Early in the movie, he grabs a clump of fur-looking hair and holds it to his head and his crotch. The audience roars. Extreme close-ups put his (Randy’s, not the donkey’s) nose hairs and bulging eyes a lot nearer than this viewer would have liked.

In the movie, Randy plays the fiddle while ranchers brand cattle. He stares down a camel in the middle of remote desert scrub. He drives down a dusty desert road as a killer in a white Mercedes jeep and takes pot shots at invisible enemies. (The film’s on-screen opening explained that Randy was obsessed with the spirit of Shakespeare’s character Falstaff. He later said that he performed the part in what was to be a Broadway musical that  never happened.)

Based on the opening sequence (a pink-toned underexposed effort with Randy on a Shakespearian rant in full-frontal nudity), Evi apparently didn’t use a boom mike on a windy day. Strutting in a field in his fur coat, Randy sounds like he’s trying to speak over a hurricane.

Throughout the whole film, audience-members laughed, even at parts that the couple might have deemed serious. I actually felt compassion for the Quaids then: who wants their creative effort laughed at? (After four hours, I couldn’t bear to sit through a second 15-minute intermission for the Q&A to hear the couple’s view of their process and product.)

In my view, the scenery and wardrobe were the best part of the movie. The open desert setting looked like it could have been California, Mexico, Arizona or New Mexico.  The suits Randy wore in the film were unquestionably expensive and well tailored. I couldn’t help thinking: This movie is how this wealthy couple spends their money? What a waste. (The pair has sought refugee status in Canada and has made Vancouver their adoptive home. Evi is now here legally because her dad was born in Canada, but Randy’s application is still pending. The two donated the night’s proceeds to the Canadian Council of Refugees.)

Admittedly, I think that Randy is a gifted character actor who’s gone seriously askew. The evening opened with a screening of the Canadian movie Real Time, in which Randy plays, coincidentally enough, a hired assassin of a young, compulsive gambler whose unpaid debts are too high. In the role, he appears to channel Michael Caine, and won the 2009 Vancouver Film Critic’s Circle Award for his portrayal.

I confess that it was voyeuristic of me to attend An Evening with the Quaids, after hearing about Randy’s conspiracy theory and reading about the couple in the January 2011 issue of Vanity Fair. That publication calls them “Hollywood’s craziest couple ” and points out “that’s a high bar.” I agree, and yet, at least, Randy and Evi have been married since 1989, which is a helluva lot longer than most Hollywood couples, including Randy’s younger brother Dennis.

 

This movie is how this wealthy couple spends their money? What a waste.

 

I also confess to enjoying the lyrics in Randy’s two rockabilly songs Star Whackers (“They’ll sell your vital organs on ebay”) and Mr. DA Man (“a little bureaucrat in a chintzy suit”), which he performed as lead singer with local band The Fugitives. A handful of people in the audience, including the guy in front of me, were videotaping this portion of the show. (Sure enough, you can see and hear Randy singing Star Whackers from that night on YouTube.) About a half-dozen young women in tight black clothes danced in the aisles, then ran 0nstage and gyrated with Randy as he sang.

Yes, even in Vancouver, Randy has his groupies. They were hollering “We love you, Randy” outside the theatre at the front of the line on Broadway before the show. I was surprised at the media presence then. Global, CBC, CNN and Fox were doing on-camera interviews with some of those waiting and Jack FM reps were hoisting around life-size cutouts of several of their DJs. When Randy and Evi arrived, gleeful cheers went up and people clamoured for autographs.

Randy and Evi recently told Vancouver magazine WE that they love Canada and “want to give back in every way possible.” Why not use your money to build a shelter for the homeless in Vancouver, for people who already live here legally?

May 8, 2011 at 1:26 pm Comments (0)

Mochrie and Stiles bring new laughs to Vancouver

I saw two of the quickest minds in improv theatre perform this week and they were hilarious. Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles, stars of the former TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, headlined a sold-out fundraiser at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre on Monday night (Feb. 21). Joining them were local improv actors Gary Jones, of Vancouver TheatreSports, Veena Sood, who trained at Loose Moose Theatre in Calgary, and stand-up comedians Christine Lippa and Denny Williams.

Williams started with a tongue-in-cheek thank you to Charlie Sheen for enabling Stiles to perform; Sheen’s TV show Two and a Half Men, which features Stiles, has been on hiatus while Sheen is in rehab. The evening’s actors, most of whom know each other from decades ago in Vancouver’s stand-up or improv scene, fell easily into teasing banter, repeat gags, and scenes of impromptu irony or outrageousness.

With his trademark dry comments, Mochrie narrated two comic tales from his  life while the others reenacted the events. One was his first kiss,  shared in a closet with a seven-year-old named Heather in Scotland, while playing the game “post office.” Lippa, Williams, and Sood gave that lots of body contact and bawdy innuendo.

The second story followed when Jones asked Mochrie about a time when he thought he was going to die. Mochrie recounted a true experience: while on a passenger jet with his wife and son, an engine malfunction forced an emergency landing. His wife, a nervous flier to start with, took his hand from across the aisle, and said: “I love you,” thinking that this might be the end. In response, Mochrie just shrugged and made a face. (He says now it was because he didn’t think the incident was that serious.)

With jiggly feet and mischievous flair, Williams aptly portrayed Mochrie’s son, who, of course, had to go to the bathroom, while Sood gave a great overly dramatic good-bye as Mochrie’s wife, reaching her arm across the aisle to clutch his hand.

At times, it was hard to hear some of the lines because the audience laughter was so loud. I haven’t laughed so hard so often in a long time. The two-hour show, with a break, included de rigeuer  volunteer participation and yelled-out ideas from the audience. Two young female volunteers, chosen from rows in the front, provided quirky sound effects for a helicopter, chainsaw, and other objects while Jones and Mochrie acted out a woodsy scenario as loggers.

I remember seeing Mochrie and Stiles perform decades ago at Granville Island (or maybe it was The Cultch) when they were part of the Vancouver improv theatre scene. Even then, their facial expressions and quick responses stood out. Williams spoke with obvious fondness of old times at Vancouver’s stand-up venue Punchlines, shared with Stiles. (For trivia lovers, Stiles met his wife at Punchlines; she was a waitress there.)

This week’s one-night-only event was a homecoming, of sorts, for Stiles and Mochrie. (I found out, through quick Internet research, that Stiles lives outside Bellingham, Wa. when he’s not in Hollywood. He’s even opened the Upfront Theatre, a small theatre in Bellingham dedicated to live improv comedy. Kudos to him for providing a new arts venue for local talent.   

All of the performers generously donated their performance time to help out The Cultch. In these harsh days of arts cutbacks, that means a lot. Thanks to The Cultch, whose executive director went to high school with Mochrie, the stellar performers, and everyone else who made Monday night such an uproarious good time.

February 25, 2011 at 8:52 am Comments (0)

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